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Voters in ANwSU towns OK loan for VUHS roof

VERGENNES — Addison Northwest Supervisory Union residents on Tuesday backed by a 724-160 margin the Vergennes Union High School board’s proposal to seek a five-year, $600,000 loan to fund new roofing on the school’s leaky classroom wing and auditorium.
Residents in all five ANwSU towns backed the proposal by wide margins: in Addison, 95-35; in Ferrisburgh, 149-34; in Panton, 47-9; in Vergennes, 410-72; and in Waltham, 23-10.
ANwSU Superintendent Tom O’Brien said on Wednesday bids for the work would go out as soon as possible, and that officials would do their “level best” to see that a lot of the project could be done this summer.
However, O’Brien said due to the date of the vote, the nature of the bidding process, and the short summer construction season, that it “was probably going to be a given” that work would still be ongoing during the next school year.
Payments on the $600,000 loan will add about $10 of annual taxes per $100,000 of assessed home value, according to an estimate by ANwSU business manager Kathy Cannon. Those who are eligible for prebates would not pay the full amount of that increase.
That estimate does not take into account adjustments for towns’ common levels of appraisals (CLAs), but Cannon said the CLAs in ANwSU towns will not move the number much.  
But it is possible ANwSU taxpayers will never make payments on the loan: O’Brien confirmed on Wednesday that it remains likely the VUHS board will float a larger bond this fall, possibly in the $2 million range, and that bond would include funding for the roofing.
Payments for the roofing would thus be included in a bond that would have a longer payback term and lower interest rates, and therefore the roofing project would have a lesser impact on tax rates.
Board members said the fall bond proposal would probably at least include an upgrade to the school’s aging kitchen and cafeteria, which feature equipment dating back to the school’s construction more than 50 years ago; replacement of its auditorium’s failing heating and ventilation system; and site improvements they also called critical, including stopping water infiltration.
School officials said they focused on a spring vote on the roofing because it is leaking badly and causing more damage to other building elements, and thus was the most crucial of the work that needs to be done.
Board members said they did not want to risk another defeat of a larger bond, and thus a potential delay in the roofing project.
There was also a legal question of whether a $2 million bond vote would be too similar to two earlier bond proposals that ANwSU voters defeated. State law bans boards and communities from asking for a third bond vote on the same issue in a 12-month period.
This past November, the board’s $6.5 million bond proposal that included the roofing work, exterior improvements, major auditorium and kitchen and cafeteria upgrades, an artificial turf field, and a six-lane track lost soundly.
A split bond proposal, one for $4.2 million for almost all the work inside and around the school, and one for $2 million for the field and track, then lost in early February.
Board chairman Donald Jochum said that board members believed a $2 million proposal that did not include many elements from earlier, larger proposals would have been legal for a spring vote, and the board obtained a legal opinion that backed that position.
But Jochum said the board did not want to risk a legal challenge that would delay the badly needed roofing work, nor did the board want to take a chance on having to “spend taxpayers’ money” defending its position.
Looking forward, board members have also developed a long-range, four-point plan for taking better care of the school building.
Step one was seeking support for the roofing project on Tuesday. 
The second step, according to a pre-vote flier the board sent out to ANwSU voters, is “the board will recommend funding the annual maintenance budget in a manner that will adequately address the ongoing needs of the school.” The board looked at comparable schools and discovered, the flier states, “our square foot maintenance cost has to date been half that of other schools.”
Next, the board will “recommend the creation of a capital improvement fund that will fund the larger physical needs of the school.” Board members said such funds have been successful at the ANwSU elementary schools, and they could reduce reliance on bonding in the future.
Finally, the flier said the board will “develop a long-term plan for a second bond that will begin payments when the current bond is paid off in 2020.” That bond paid for the major renovation and expansion of VUHS in 2000, and the future bond could include some of the items rejected by voters since November.
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at andyk@addisonindependent.com.

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